• Fortune Cookie, The

    Released by: Twilight Time
    Released on: April 18, 2017
    Directed by: Billy Wilder
    Cast: Jack Lemmon, Walter Matthau, Ron Rich, Judi West, Cliff Osmond, Lurene Tuttle, Harry Holcombe, Les Tremayne, Lauren Gilbert, Marge Redmond, Noam Pitlik, Harry Davis
    Year: 1966
    Purchase From Screen Archives

    The Movie:

    Harry Hinkle (Jack Lemmon), a television cameraman, is part of a team providing live network coverage of a Cleveland Browns game. Standing on the sidelines with his shoulder-held camera, Hinkle is accidentally knocked on his ass by Browns player Luther "Boom-Boom" Johnson (Ron Rich). Hinkle is unharmed, but with millions of people witnessing the mishap, his shyster lawyer brother-in-law William "Whiplash Willie" Gingrich (Walter Matthau) smells a golden opportunity. Hinkle, you see, has a couple of fused vertebrae, the result a jump from a garage roof when he was a kid. With the guidance of Gingrich, and in violation of his own conscience, Hinkle feigns partial paralysis and goes for a maximum insurance payout.

    The insurance company's lawyers (Harry Holcombe, Les Tremayne, and Lauren Gilbert) smell bullshit, so they hire a private investigator Chester Purkey (Cliff Osmond) to tail and observe the injured party. Purkey and a partner set up surveillance across the street from Hinkle's apartment, but Gingrich gets wind of them and makes sure that Hinkle stays in character 24/7, whether at home or elsewhere. At the same time, Hinkle works his “injury” to draw his ex-wife Sandy (Judi West) from the stud she's shacking up with and back into Hinkle's own orbit. At the same time, Boom-Boom, a soft-hearted lug with a guilty conscience, insists on playing nursemaid to Hinkle, providing a set-up for the film's admirably-anti-racist-but-still-not-all-that-believable conclusion.

    The Fortune Cookie—the title refers to a plot point that seems tacked on solely to provide said title (in the United Kingdom, the film was known as Meet Whiplash Willie)—was successful upon its release, grossing between 6 and 7 million 1966 dollars. It received four Oscar nominations (including one for director Billy Wilder for Best Original Screenplay), with Matthau taking home a statuette for Best Supporting Actor.

    The Fortune Cookie stands as perfectly watchable today, although it’s at least fifteen minutes too long and, honestly, not really all that funny. It was marketed, for no discernable reason, as a "black comedy" in '66, so maybe it really wasn't very funny back then, either. On the positive side, Lemon and Matthau turn in good performances, with this being their first of many pairings. They have a rapport that is appealing and natural, so it’s easy to see why they were reteamed in so many future films, the best of which is the 1968 big-screen adaptation of Neil Simon’s The Odd Couple.


    For anyone looking to show off the wonders of black and white film on Blu-ray to those who disbelieve, The Fortune Cookie is the perfect example. The film comes to the format courtesy of boutique label Twilight Time with an MPEG-4 AVC encode in 1080p high definition. Presented in the film’s original theatrical aspect ratio of 2.35:1 (Panavision), the image is stunning, to say the least. This is helped by the fact that, per Twilight Time’s standard, the film is placed on a BD50 with a high bitrate. Each and every frame is crisp and detailed, revealing subtle nuances in Joseph LaShelle’s cinematography. If not for the monochrome, one would believe that he or she was staring through a window at the action. Every bump, line, or ingrown hair on the actors’ faces is revealed; every fringe and disparate thread in a performer’s apparel stands out. Furniture and foliage practically pop off the screen. Asphalt and bricks reveal their imperfections. In fact, the image looks so good that it almost appears three-dimensional. Grain is well resolved, while the contrast between blacks and whites is gorgeous and layered. There’s no washout or crush; whites, grays, and blacks are textured while shadow detail is distinct and well-defined, with the deepest blacks appearing inky. There are no serious imperfections, and dirt and debris are almost absent except for some minor specks and a couple of minor scratches. While The Fortune Cookie has been released multiple times on DVD in the past, none of them compare to the quality in Twilight Time’s presentation.

    Purists should be happy with the lossless English DTS-HD Master Audio 1.0 (Mono) track, which is clean and clear. Dialogue is mostly front and center, with sound effects mixed slightly lower. There is absolutely no hiss, crackles, or pops. Andre Previn’s score sounds very good. Speaking of… that score is provided on an isolated DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 track. Optional English subtitles for the deaf or hearing impaired are included. In short, there is nothing to complain about here.

    The only extra is the film’s original theatrical trailer. It runs 2:36 and is presented in hi-def. There’s also a gallery of titles that Twilight Time has released so far, with those that are no longer in print tagged as such.

    The BD comes complete with an 8-page booklet containing liner notes by film historian Julie Kirgo. The booklet contains stills and the original poster art, in addition to Kirgo’s impressive writing. While Kirgo’s notes touch on Wilder’s background and the lead actors’ histories, it rightfully focuses on The Fortune Cookie, making apt comparisons to Wilder’s classic film noir Double Indemnity (1944).

    The Fortune Cookie is region free and limited to 3,000 units.

    The Final Word:

    The Fortune Cookie is a moderately inventive though pessimistic comedy featuring some good performances. Twilight Time’s Blu-ray release looks fantastic, offering some of the best images yet for a black and white film in the format. For people looking to show off the visual aspects of the medium, there are few better ways to do it than to show someone this film.

    Christopher Workman is a freelance writer, film critic, and co-author (with Troy Howarth) of the Tome of Terror horror film review series. Horror Films of the Silent Era and Horror Films of the 1930s are currently available, with Horror Films of the 1940s due out later this year.

    Click on the images below for full sized Blu-ray screen caps!

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